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Features of heritage governance

Based on what we have discussed so far, we can identify three main features in heritage governance today

In this video, we point out three main features in heritage governance today.

Heritage governance has traditionally been linked to the nation-state and was centralised – a task entrusted to culture ministries and their different branches and experts. It was thus both centralised and expert-dominated. It was also mainly funded by the state – there was little activity in terms of public-private partnerships as heritage was conceived as ‘national property’.

During the past 15 years, heritage governance has undergone a process of transformation leading to a number of changes:

There is a trend for increased decentralisation in heritage governance today which is in itself further manifested in four distinct processes.

  1. First, outsourcing: many functions of heritage preservation, such as cataloguing, or inventorying, restoration, are outsourced to private (whether profit or not for profit) actors. This strategy offers higher flexibility and efficiency compared to a capillary system of public employees and offices.

  2. Second, there is a high degree of devolution: regional and local actors are given both power and responsibility in managing their own region’s or city’s heritage. This happens with a view to recognising the specific needs of each local reality as well as its potential. It also privileges a stronger sense of ownership of heritage by local and regional communities. The aim is to cut red tape and allow for heritage to also become a lever of both cultural and economic development.

  3. Third, there is an increasing tendency towards managerialisation in the governance of heritage. While experts have become less powerful in the governance of heritage, the role of managers (of museums, libraries, cultural foundations) becomes increasingly important as there is an expectation that each cultural institution shows a high degree of autonomy as well as self-sustainability.

  4. Fourth, there is a certain tendency for privatisation in the governance of heritage. This tendency is more controversial as it goes far beyond outsourcing or managerialisation to the outright concession of cultural heritage places or items (such as natural landscapes or historical buildings and collections) entirely to private operators who would be responsible for managing them overall.

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Cultural Heritage and the City

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